It's not very common for cats to develop an ear infection, but when they do arise, they are often the result of another health problem. In this post, our Mooresville vets talk about the causes of yeast ear infections, bacterial ear infections, inner ear infections, and more in cats, including how to recognize them and the treatment available.
How Common Are Ear Infections In Cats?
Ear infections are a relatively uncommon health condition in cats but when they do arise, the underlying cause can be serious.
A simple outer ear infection can quickly spread to the middle ear and onto your kitty's inner ear, which is why it is important to have it addressed by a veterinarian before more severe symptoms develop. If a cat's ear infection goes untreated it can result in hearing loss.
There are 2 main types of ear infections:
- Outer ear infections in cats (typically less serious and easy to treat) are often caused by ear mites.
- Inner ear infections in cats (less common but more serious) are generally caused by an underlying condition resulting in a bacterial infection.
How Cats Get Ear Infections
Except in the case of ear mites, most cat ear infections are generally a sign of an underlying health condition. If your cat has a weak immune system, diabetes or allergies they face an increased risk of ear infections compared to cats with stronger immune systems.
Cat ear infections can develop when the lining of the ear canal becomes irritated, leading to inflammation. Inflammation within the ear can lead to excess wax production which in turn creates an environment where the naturally occurring bacteria and yeast grow out of control.
At that point, further inflammation is likely to occur and itchiness begins, resulting in the most common symptoms of ear infections in cats: ear rubbing, scratching, clawing, and repeated head shaking.
A few of the most common causes of outer ear and middle ear infections in cats include:
- Buildup of wax
- Irritants in the environment
- Allergies (pollen, food, etc).
- Foreign bodies in the ear canal
- Autoimmune diseases
- Immune system diseases (FLV or FIV)
- Thick fur or hair in the ear canal
- Excessive growth of bacteria, yeast or both
- Incorrect ear cleaning
- Ruptured eardrum
- Polyps or tumors in the ear canal
- Diabetes mellitus
Our vets don't see as many outer ear infections in cats as they do in dogs, but when they do happen, these infections can quickly spread to your cat's middle ear and inner ear. Ear mite infestation is the most common cause of outer ear infections in our feline friends.
Signs of Cat Ear Infections
If your kitty is rubbing their ear or looking otherwise uncomfortable, your pet may have an ear infection. Other signs of ear infections in cats include:
- Strong odor from the ear
- Swelling or redness in the ear canal
- Head tilting
- Yellowish or black discharge
- Ear discharge resembling coffee grounds
- Waxy buildup near or on the canal
- Swelling or redness of the ear flap
- Loss of balance
- Hearing loss
If your cat's ears are healthy they should be pale pink in color and have no visible debris, or odor, and very little wax buildup. When a cat's ear becomes infected they are often red or swollen and may have an odor.
Diagnosing Ear Infections In Cats
Your vet will start by examining your cat’s ear canal, then take a sample of ear debris to examine under a microscope to determine whether bacteria, ear mites, or a yeast infection in your cat's ear, is the cause of the problem.
Taking your cat to Lake Norman at Mooresville Animal Hospital for routine wellness exams gives your veterinarian the opportunity to monitor the health of your kitty's ears on a regular basis.
Wellness exams mean that your vet may be able to detect early signs of health issues, including ear infections before they develop into more serious health concerns that can be more difficult and costly to treat.
Our veterinary hospital also has an in-house lab that lets our vets conduct any tests needed and get results quickly so that your furry friend's treatment can start as quickly as possible.
Treatments For Cat Ear Infections
The treatments for ear infections in cats generally start with your vet clipping the fur around your cat’s ear canal in order to help keep the area clean and dry.
If the infection has made its way to the middle ear but the eardrum has not yet been infected, oral or injectable antibiotics may be used to help clear up the infection.
For ear mites, a bacterial ear infection in cats, or yeast infection in cats, your vet may prescribe corticosteroids, antifungals, antibiotics, or anti-parasitics in-ear drops for treatment.
At-home treatment for cat ear infections involves monitoring the condition of your cat's ears to see if the interior of the ear flap is clean and that the canal is clear. If your vet has prescribed ear drops, simply lift the ear flap, then squeeze the solution into the ear canal, gently massaging the base of the ear to help the medicine work its way deeper into the ear.
Early treatment is the key to preventing chronic ear infections that could lead to severe issues such as facial paralysis and hearing loss for your kitty.
The Causes of Chronic Ear Infection In Cats
Chronic ear infections in cats can be caused by a handful of problems such as growths, allergies, or parasites. If you find that your feline friend has a long-lasting or recurring ear infection that’s making their ears itchy or painful, discuss this problem with your vet. They may be able to prescribe a medication to help reduce tissue swelling inside of your cat's ear canal.
Surgery may be required in some rare cases to correct ear issues and remove swollen tissue that has blocked or narrowed your kitty's ear canal.
Prevent Ear Infections In Cats
While there might not be any way to prevent ear infections, you can take the steps needed to catch the signs of an ear infection early so treatment can start before symptoms become more serious. Regularly check your cat's ears to ensure there’s no odor, residue, redness, swelling, or other symptoms. Have any issues treated before they worsen, and ask your vet to show you how to correctly clean your cat’s ears.
Do not insert cleaning devices into your cat’s ear canal unless your vet has specifically told you to do so, and shown you how to clean your cat's ears safely.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.